Advances in digital and data technology have started to irreversibly alter the way we all work and the role of the PA is significantly impacted by this change. We explain the terms which describe this revolution and why it’s vital for you to know more about it
you can read an article, your newsfeed or watch on TV about the next industrial revolution and how it’s going to change our lives at work and at home. No one is panicking yet because the phrases used to describe these changes are subtle and they sound fun, warm and cosy – the “gig economy” and the “sharing economy”, or they are so incomprehensible and mysterious that the phrase means nothing “the internet of things” is a great example.
We can already see the innovations in our social and private lives; Fitbit watches that monitor where we are, our heart rate and how fast we’re running and then load the data onto the internet so we can track our path to fitness from our phone or laptop.
Amazon now has a home product called “Amazon Echo” used in conjunction with its virtual personal assistant “Alexa”, that you talk to and will play your choice of music, dim your lights and even regulate your central heating. It’s a brave new world that’s both fantastic and frightening. Changes are now also occurring in offices and businesses all over the world so what’s going on and what does it all mean?
THE BIG REVOLUTION
In a speech in December Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England stated that nearly half of all office jobs will disappear due to the technological revolution now taking place. Jobs and industries at most risk are process and administration based, so the legal, financial and real estate sectors for example, are set to radically alter in shape and reduce in size over the next few years.
Jobs involving any kind of data entry or repeat process functions, will all probably disappear. None of the experts disagree with these claims, what is concerning though is they are equally divided over whether these jobs will be replaced by new ones, or simply disappear never to be replaced.
A similar automation revolution has taken place in the industrial sector over the past 40 years. Factories slowly became emptied of skilled trades people, to be replaced with clean rooms, computers and robots, and despite its relatively gradual pace there are many cities still suffering from its effects, with long-term unemployment and underinvestment. A good
example is Detroit, which is bankrupt and one in three homes abandoned. The office revolution is estimated to be complete in less than half that time – 10 to 15 years, all administration staff are in the firing line and there is no reason to believe its effects will be any less brutal.
THE MOVE TO BIG DATA
Technology innovation now allows the sharing and combining of separate databases to find out particular information and patterns.
Facebook and google are good examples where software and the algorithms behind their platforms examine your viewing patterns to identify your possible purchasing needs, and combine this with the location of your laptop or phone to send targeted advertisements and messages.
Big data means Government can now provide you with a single point of contact for all your tax, health and benefits needs, which saves you time and them resources.
Innovations in big data and wi-fi has created an explosion in the use of unmanned drones, anything from bombing countries thousands of miles away, to dropping off much needed medical supplies in hard to get to locations. Where previously the option was either a camera on the end of a long stick or at a cost, a light airplane, Real Estate agents now regularly use cheap and small drones with cameras to take great photos of properties for promotional purposes.
THE SHARING ECONOMY
Big data is behind the rise of organisations like hotelier Airbnb and people moving business Uber, where a request anywhere in the world gets immediately matched to a need, a transaction takes place and money gets deposited in exchange for a service – all through a single point of contact. These organisations have given rise to the sharing economy.
Sharing economy is the phrase used to explain the idea of additional income and flexible work. You can use your private car as a taxi, or rent an unused room in your house
or apartment, get to meet interesting people and make some spare cash.
The sharing economy idea sounds great and has many benefits, however it’s still in its infancy, unregulated and open to abuse.
Unscrupulous landlords keen to cash in on the Airbnb boom have been accused of kicking out long-term tenants and artificially driving up inner-city properly prices. Last year a bill
was passed which imposed heavy fines on people offering short term lets in New York who break the rules. Airbnb initiated a legal battle with the State, which it subsequently dropped and New Orleans, Berlin, San-Francisco and other cities throughout the world are all looking at how to deal with sharing economy organisations like Airbnb. Clearly there is some way to go before these innovation businesses are completely accepted in the fabric of society and their responsibilities are clearly identified and agreed by all parties.
THE GIG ECONOMY
The gig economy is the term used to describe the practice of not necessarily working for one employer – that a career will be made up of lots of jobs, taken up on a project-by-project basis.
Depending on circumstances and skill sets a flexible working arrangement can work very well for many people and not so well for others. Many virtual PAs for example, work
on a client by job basis, have thriving businesses and are gig economy experts.
On the other hand, in October last year two Uber drivers successfully argued at a London employment tribunal that they had worker rights and should not be treated as self-employed.
Uber lost its right to classify its drivers as self-employed, which means it has to guarantee a minimum wage, provide holiday allowance and pay a possible GBP$314 million in additional
tax revenue for the UK economy.
The definition of exponential growth is basically “runaway growth” and is used to describe how quickly the adoption of new technology business practices are taking place. For example, two businesses see their competitor with a technology advantage, so they adopt the same technology, which means there are now three businesses with a digital advantage – six competitors then adopt the technology used by the three, so in no time we have nine businesses with a digital advantage, when just a moment ago there was only one – then it grows to 27 businesses, 81, 243 and 729. At this rate of change it’s easy for a business or individual to get left behind and also easy to understand how quickly transformation is taking place.
WHY DISRUPTION IS GOOD
Disruption is the term used to describe the impact of new technologies and innovation organisations that tear up the old rules of business within their sector, and use their digital advantage over competitors to create a new set of rules. Air-bnb, Uber, Amazon, Facebook and Google are all examples of disruption businesses. Disruption is not necessarily a bad thing for a traditional business. Most organisations acknowledge that their current working practices will not work in the future, they are unsure of what changes will be required and they need to encourage innovation and ideas from people within their organisations. Strange as it may seem today’s businesses are looking to disrupt and want disrupters on their team.
HOW TO MANAGE THE CHANGE
PAs can manage the change through continued vocational education, embracing it and challenging the status quo, and developing your sense of professionalism and understanding
of how to apply it.
Nearly 20% of the working population have office administration roles and there are up to 150 job categories to describe these roles, which means there is a career path for professionally minded personal assistants.
It also means that executive level assistants have skills in addition to basic administration skills, and these are the areas to build on.
For those looking for their first step on the ladder, they will need to make sure they are already well equipped to up skill.
An inexperienced candidate will need to be properly educated in the basic aspects of a Personal Assistant’s job function, such as diary email and travel management before they apply for a position. They will not have the opportunity to learn these skills on the job and if they have an additional understanding of how to use something like social media, they will most likely be viewed as a good risk to test out.
As entry-level assistants will be required to have a vocational education in administration, the career path to executive level assistant is going to be more clearly defined in the future.
So, by the time you reach executive level, in addition to a full skillset required as a foundation to your job, you will have undergone at least another further two stages of
vocational learning (intermediate and advanced) to give you the confidence and additional skills needed to work alongside the executive in your organisation.
You are working in a profession so it makes sense that by focusing on the development of ‘professionalism’ as an attitude you will already be thinking in the way that your organisation will highly value.
Critical thinking, judgement, ambassador qualities and willingness to challenge the status quo, all used in conjunction with your high organisation and project management skills will
make you an invaluable asset to your business and keep you ahead of the game regardless of the technology revolution.